What is the connection between diet, health and COVID-19?
We are facing an unprecedented global health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been many lessons learnt to date. One important observation has been that people with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop severe consequences from infection, with an increased risk of requiring intensive care treatment and ultimately of dying. These underlying health conditions are those that are already common in our society. They are:
- high blood pressure
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes.
We have learnt a lot about how to treat COVID-19 and we are hopeful that the mass vaccination programme can turn the tide. Nonetheless, there are some common sense, evidence-based actions we can take to improve our own health and help to optimise our immune system.
One reason why older adults and those with chronic illness are at higher risk from respiratory viruses is because of the effects of chronic inflammation associated with the above mentioned conditions. The consequence is of reduced functioning of the immune system.
We already know that diet and lifestyle choices can have an anti-inflammatory effect and help our immune system. By following a whole food plant based diet and healthy lifestyle habits, we can promote healthy aging and lower the risk of chronic disease.
Healthy lifestyle habits to strengthen your immune system
- Stress management
ADEQUATE AND GOOD QUALITY SLEEP
This essential for a healthy immune system. We should all be aiming for 7–9 hours sleep per night. To help ensure good quality sleep, the following can help
> maintain a regular sleep schedule
> if you nap keep this to less than 30 minutes and before 2pm
> make sure your bedroom is at a cool temperature, around 15–19 degrees Celsius
> ensure a dark room without noise
> avoid bright lights in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning
> avoid heavy, carbohydrate-loaded meals 2–3 hours before bedtime
> minimise screen-time/use of electronic devices in the evenings
> avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol after 3pm.
2. REGULAR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Exercise and regular movement through our day has many benefits. This includes maintaining a healthy immune system and helping achieve good quality sleep. The recommended amount for adults is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and strength building exercises twice per week. Even if you find yourselves having to stay indoors, everyday household activities can be of benefit to health in general.
3. MANAGING STRESS
Stress management is really important for maintaining your immune system. Chronic psychological stress promotes inflammation and reduces your defence against infection. Useful approaches for managing stress include mindfulness and meditation, which may have a role in reducing the risk of infection. Don’t underestimate the effect of loving relationships either as studies have shown them to have a beneficial effect on the immune system. Remember to be kind, look after your neighbours and those who are vulnerable in your communities.
It is also important to remember that certain toxins put stress on the body. Risky. substances such as alcohol, tobacco and vaping can increase the risk of chronic disease and impair the function of the immune system.
These recommendation do not guarantee freedom from infection or COVID-19, but they are side-effect free suggestions, which are also in line with general good practice recommendations for healthy living.
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